Real Organic Project

Spotlight on Golden Russet Farm

As our Eat Local Challenge rolls on, we’re casting our Co-op Spotlight on a local, organic farm that has been part of our Co-op family for over 30 years – Golden Russet Farm! We acquire more produce from their farm than from any other farm in Vermont! Member-owners can enjoy 20% off of their abundant array of local, organic veggies and their glorious fresh-cut bouquets from September 14th – 20th! Read on to learn more about this wonderful farm and the fine folks who work tirelessly to make it such a special place:

Golden Russet Farm logo

Farming Organically Since 1981

Will and Judy Stevens have been growing organic vegetables commercially since 1981, having started on a small plot of rented land in Monkton, VT. After growing their business and refining their techniques, all the while learning from other pioneers in the Vermont organic farming community, they determined it was time to expand their operation. In 1984 they purchased a former dairy farm with good soils in the agriculturally-rich town of Shoreham, VT, in the southwestern corner of Addison County—and this land has been home to Golden Russet Farm ever since! A few years ago, their daughter Pauline returned home to the farm, and in 2022, Will and Judy began transitioning ownership of the farm to Pauline. 

Certified Organic in 1987

The Stevens have always used exclusively organic production practices in their vegetable and greenhouse operations and became certified organic by Vermont Organic Farmers in 1987. Among other things, this means they use crop rotation, cover crops, biological and naturally derived pest controls, compost, animal manure, and naturally derived fertilizers as standard management practices. More recently, the farm has also become Real Organic Certified by the Real Organic Project. This is an add-on label certifying farms that remain true to the original tenets of the organic movement by prioritizing fertile soil as the fundamental foundation of organic farming. 

CSA, Farmstand, Greenhouse Sales & Cut Flowers for Events

Golden Russet Farm starts off the season with vegetable and flower plant sales in the greenhouses and the Farm-to-Kitchen Connection CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program. In addition to raising vegetables for market, they also grow flowers for cutting, which adds color to the fields and creates habitat for beneficial insects. You’ll find these beautiful bouquets for sale throughout the summer months at the Co-op.



A Hyper-Local Sales Focus

Since 2003, the farm’s focus has been on “hyper-local,” meaning that approximately 90% of their produce has been consumed within 20 miles of the farm. Their produce is available at the farm stand, their CSA, at food markets in Middlebury and Burlington, and at Addison County restaurants.

Solar Powered Since 2013

In April of 2013, the Stevens put up five free-standing solar panels which provide them with all of their farm and personal electrical energy needs.

About The Farmers

Judy is a fourth-generation Vermonter from southern Vermont. Her family ran a successful Christmas tree business in the Londonderry area for many years. This experience helped her and Will create a successful mail-order wreath business that they ran from the farm until about 2000. Will moved to Vermont from the Ticonderoga, NY area in 1977 to finish his college education at the University of Vermont, which is where he and Judy met. He graduated in 1980 with a BA in studio art, with a specialty in blacksmithing.

After spending the summer of 1980 at Shelburne Museum (Judy as a weaver, and Will in the Blacksmith’s Shop), they were serendipitously presented with the opportunity to ramp up their homestead gardening interest to a commercial scale, and in the first several years everything they grew was sold exclusively at the Burlington Farmers’ Market. From the beginning, their mission has been to provide good quality food to people at reasonable prices.

Shortly after they moved to an old dairy farm in Shoreham, VT, in November 1984, they began to raise a family–Freeman was born in 1986, Pauline in 1989, and Anna came along in 1991. The kids had a sand pile in front of the shed, which, as the greenhouse plant business grew over the years, became a magnet for customers’ children. At some point, the pile was moved to its present location at the corner of the flower garden, which makes it much easier for shopping parents to keep an eye on their children!

Will & Judy. Flashback.1991. cropped

Between 1989 and 1992, Will served as President of Vermont Organic Farmers, which then was NOFA-VT’s certification committee. This was an exciting time in the world of organic agriculture. The sudden interest in the link between food safety and production practices was inspired by Meryl Streep’s CBS appearance on 60 Minutes in the fall of 1989 when she railed against a particular spray used on apples. “Mothers and Others for Pesticide Limits” was formed, bringing public awareness to the benefits of organic agriculture. Suddenly, a fringe movement that had been based on back-to-the-land ideals found itself moving toward the mainstream. Some would say that this was the beginning of the localvore movement.

Judy served for 3 years on the board of the Vermont Fresh Network. VFN strives to foster meaningful, mutually profitable relationships between Vermont food producers and chefs and was one of the earliest formal “Farm to Table” initiatives in the nation.

Judy and Will have been actively involved in Town affairs through various organizations and boards. Judy served on the Rescue Squad through much of the eighties and has played an important role in the expansion and promotion of Shoreham’s Platt Memorial Library over the last twenty years. Will was elected to the Town Planning Commission in the mid-nineties and eventually chaired it for several years. He has since served on the Select and Zoning Boards and has been elected Town Moderator every year since 2004.

In November 2006 Will was elected to the Vermont Legislature (as an Independent, representing the Towns of Benson, Orwell, Shoreham, and Whiting) for the first of four two-year terms. He was on the House Agriculture and Forest Products Committee all eight years and served the last four as ranking member. He is especially proud of two programs that came out of his committee during that time: the Farm to Plate and Working Lands Initiatives. Will now serves as an Outreach Representative for Senator Bernie Sanders’ office. 


Be sure to visit the Golden Russet blog for great recipes, tips on using plants as natural dyes, and updates on farm happenings!

Spotlight on Nature’s Path

We’re shining a bright Member Deals Spotlight this week on a fiercely independent family-owned company that manages to maintain its foothold in an industry dominated by mega multi-national food brands. Nature’s Path chose the road less traveled and we’re excited to shine a bright light on their Inclusive-Trade business from March 9th – 15th, during which member-owners can enjoy a 20% discount on their entire line of products. Read on to learn more about the multi-generational family at the helm of Nature’s Path, their commitment to organic integrity, and the mission that drives them to succeed:

In the May 23rd, 2022 episode of his podcast How I Built This, Guy Roz opens his interview with Nature’s Path founder-owners Arran and Ratana Stephens by outlining the unlikely scenario of their success.  “There are two companies in America that basically own the morning,” Roz explains. “One is called Kellogs, the other is General Mills. Post is not far behind.”  In the organic market, there’s the illusion of much more brand diversity as you travel the cereal aisle, but do not be deceived —  most of these organic brands have been purchased over the past 20 years by…you guessed it — Kellogs, General Mills, and Post. In this sea of cereal consolidation floats an unlikely victor – a family-owned brand called Nature’s Path that clings fast to its values and refuses to sell out.

Arran and Ratana met in India in the late 1960s where they were both under the tutelage of the same spiritual guide. Despite being born in Pakistan, India was home for Ratana, and while Arran’s grandmother was also from India, he had grown up on an organic farm outside of Vancouver in Canada. After a particularly formative visit to India at the age of 23, Arran returned to Vancouver inspired to open a vegetarian restaurant called the Golden Lotus. The restaurant was warmly welcomed by the community and was successful from the start. 

Nature’s Path Co-founders Arran & Ratana Stephens

In 1968, Arran took a temporary leave from the restaurant to revisit his spiritual mentor for a birthday celebration event. That evening, he and Ratana sat at opposite ends of a crowded dinner table and can recall their eyes locking. Indian women didn’t typically marry Westerners, but with the blessing of their shared mentor, they agreed to marry and returned to Canada in 1969 to run the restaurant together. 

Ratana cooked at the Golden Lotus and raised the couple’s four children while Arran managed the business aspect of the restaurant, eventually transitioning it to a cooperative business model so that it could be collectively owned by its employees. Arran then started a natural foods store attached to the restaurant that imported Indian goods and sold organic and natural food items, including muffins made in-house by Ratana. By the 1980s they’d expanded significantly, including annex stores and warehouses, and were enjoying significant success, but when it came time to scale the business and seek additional funding, Arran and Ratana’s relationship with one of their business partners had soured and they were ready to cut ties on the store venture.

Jyoti, Arran, Ratana, and Arjan Stephens of Nature’s Path

Arran continued to manage the cooperative restaurant, while Ratana formally studied finance, and they opened a successful new restaurant called The Woodlands, where in 1985, Arran began making Nature’s Path’s first product – manna bread, sprouting the grain in a bathtub in a bakery in the back of the restaurant. The bread was sold as a frozen product through a network of distributors throughout Canada and the US. Shortly after, Arran expanded the product line to include cereal, leading with manna multi-grain flakes.

A champion for organic integrity from the onset, it was important to Arran that his customers have confidence in the quality of his products. In the mid-80s, the organic program wasn’t yet fully formed, with no third-party label available to designate certified organic products. Arran was involved in the development of the first organic rules and served on the board of the Organic Trade Association during those most formative years. Legend Organic Farm, owned by Arran Stephens, is one of the first to earn the Regenerative Organic Certification® from the Regenerative Organic Alliance (ROA). This brings us closer to our goal of building a food movement that helps to heal the soil, land, water, and air.

As business boomed, Arran found that he needed to expand to meet increasing demand and began seeking funding sources. At the largest bank in Canada, he was warned against competing with the likes of Kellogs and General Mills, and this response became the common refrain of each big bank he approached. Finally, in 1989, Canadian Western, a much smaller bank, agreed to invest in the $6 million construction of a new turn-key factory for Nature’s Path, which opened on April 6th, 1990. Arran and Ratana sold the restaurant to focus solely on Nature’s Path.

An awakening was underway in North America at this time and more consumers were looking for products produced without pesticides, herbicides, and artificial additives. By the late ’90s, Nature’s Path was well positioned to ride this whole foods wave, despite sharing crowded shelf space with the giants. They have since expanded beyond cereals, now boasting 150+ products and over 800 employees. For many years, Arran served as Chief Executive Officer managing Sales and Marketing, while Ratana served as Chief Operations Officer focusing on staffing and finance. Four years ago, Arran stepped down as CEO and Ratana stepped into that role. Arran affectionately describes Ratana in Roz’s podcast as “the soul of the company” and the “yin to my yang”.

CEO and Co-Founder Ratana Stephens pictured with daughter Jyoti Stephens, VP of Mission & Strategy

The couple is approached once per week, on average, by their big brand competitors and private equity firms, all eagerly requesting to purchase the business. Despite financial offers that make their heads spin, Ratana and Arran feel that it is important to prioritize the mission-driven aspect of their business and they refuse to compromise their values. Both they and their children feel adamant about maintaining their independence and soul. Three of their kids and four of their grandchildren have taken various roles with the company and succession plans to transfer the business to their children are crystallizing. When asked the secret to his success, Arran points to the old adage that “the harder I work, the luckier I get” and stresses that effort cannot be underrated.” “Effort, common sense, faith, and grace” adds Ratana. 

Nature’s Path General Manager Arjan Stephens pictured with his wife, Dr. Rimjhim Stephens.

Arran continues to be a persistent and effective activist fighting for transparency and integrity in our food system, working with the Real Organic Project to advocate for organic integrity in the food system. As we face the disastrous impacts of climate change, Arran recognizes “The greatest input we can add to our farmlands is the wisdom of cultures around the world who have been growing organically for hundreds of generations before chemical agriculture was introduced in the 20th century.” 

Arjan on the organic farm with his grandchildren

“At the center and core of Nature’s Path Foods is the goal of creating an agricultural system that aims towards healing the soil, land, water, air, and all of us who rely on these essential and natural elements. All around the world, people are waking up to the direct connection between how we farm locally and the massive collective impact this has on the stability of the global climate. This awareness has led to a will to do something about it. And we welcome the conversation on how we better reach that goal.”

“In the end, organic agriculture is really just good farming. It treats natural soil life, insects, animals, people, air, water and earth with integrity. Our support of the Real Organic Project is not a radical move— it’s simply a clear statement for the preservation of integrity in organic. Together we offer the strong voice needed to stand up against the practices now tearing the fabric of the planet apart. And as the Real Organic Project continues to raise this voice in support of integrity in the face of well-entrenched and well-financed opposition, Nature’s Path hopes that it won’t stand down or give in.”


The mission at Nature’s Path is to always leave the earth better than they found it. Beyond their commitment to organic food and farming, as a triple-bottom-line company, they hold themselves accountable to doing what’s best for people and the planet (click here to read their 6 Sustainability Pillars). Their latest sustainability goal is for all of their packaging to be reusable, recyclable, or compostable by 2025. One of the ways they’re working towards this is their recent partnership with Loop – a global reusable packaging program – which is assisting them in creating a circular packaging system including piloting a reusable granola container!  Click here to read more about the culture of giving and sustainability initiatives at Nature’s Path!